My name is Luke Newman and I am the founder and director of ‘For Men To Talk’. Today marks its one year anniversary of its launch and although it seems to have gone by in a flash, so much has happened.
I started it as I know how hard it is for men to be open with their feelings. I wanted men to feel comfortable enough to talk and give them a venue to do so.
As I was setting up the room at Jones’ Cafe in Biggleswade. I placed information leaflets from the Samaritans, MIND and CALM on a table in the corner. The biggest killer of men in the UK under 45 is suicide. One in four men have thought about taking their own life and over 40% of men suffer in silence, never sharing their feelings.
I was petrified. Not because I was afraid that nobody would turn up, but afraid that men wouldn’t take up the opportunity to talk. I was delighted to see that nearly 20 men attended that first group meeting. In the next couple of months, those numbers rose.
I’m not a professional, I’m not yet qualified, I will do so in the near future. But from the feedback from the attendees, is that they like that. As mentioned, I had information leaflets available from professionals, if or when the men needed them. But I think that lads liked that it was so informal, no rules, no regulations, no hard questions to answer. The subject could be anything, feelings, worries or even about sport or television, but the comforting thing was that all the men in that room had one thing in common. They were going through troubles, but they wanted to talk.
It was also a chance for men who have finished counselling sessions to continue their journey. A few were saying that although their therapy had been completed and personal growth had been achieved, they wanted to continue talking. The ‘For Men To Talk’ group sessions allowed that continuation.
I’d only been running the group for three months and in March 2020 I would receive £420 as a donation from Potton Colts under 15’s football side. They played a friendly game against Gransden FC at the local football stadium, underneath the floodlights. I couldn’t thank the players, managers, sponsors and spectators enough. Truly overwhelmed.
Then on 23 March 2020, the worldwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome, made our Prime Minister Boris Johnson announce a national lockdown and ordering Brits to stay at home. This meant banning gatherings of more than two people and closing all non-essential retail. It also meant that our physical group meetings were over.
I couldn’t let that stop the progress of the sessions and needed to think of an alternative. I was introduced to Zoom, a video and audio communications tool. This would allow ‘For Men To Talk’ to continue, in an online form.
However, the basic Zoom plan would only allow the meetings to last 40 minutes. We needed a premium plan which would give us unlimited minutes, but that cost £115.
Mulberry Homes is a privately-owned company that builds both residential and commercial properties. They have been building a new housing estate in my town and had seen advertising posts on Facebook pages. They very kindly donated £400, which paid for that premium plan.
So since 25 March 2020, every Wednesday men would continue their mental health discussions, but now virtually.
This has allowed us to welcome experts to join the meetings, who were able to present and suggest improvements and techniques on improving mental health. Experts have discussed grief, nutrition, exercise and also separation from a partner.
We have also discussed the importance of male cancer awareness and recognising the symptoms. A page is now dedicated on the ‘For Men To Talk’ website with downloadable PDF files recognising the symptoms of testicular and prostate cancer.
For nine months now, the virtual group meetings have been going from strength to strength and attracting men not just from the local area, but as far as Wisconsin in the USA. With current restrictions, due to coronavirus, these meetings with continue online for the foreseeable future.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single man who has attended the physical and virtual meetings. Hopefully you are seeing the benefits of talking about your feelings.
I would also like to that all the support from the public, for the kind words, for recommendations, for sharing social media posts, there is so many ways that you have helped.
To 2021, we maybe in unknown waters, but ‘For Men To Talk’ will keep swimming until we reach the shallow end and we can walk again.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.